The banner feature for the iPad 2 is the addition of two cameras, both able to record video or snap photos. The camera on the back (demonstrated in this gallery) is located in the upper-right corner where it isn't likely to be covered by your hand (in portrait orientation, at least).
There's no camera flash on the iPad 2, however, and its camera sensor is a far cry from the one used in the iPhone 4. Just like the fourth-generation iPod Touch, the iPad 2 takes photos that are essentially video stills.
In this gallery, CNET photographer James Martin takes the iPad 2's rear-facing camera out for a stroll to test photo quality.
Here's a view down 2nd Street near CNET's San Francisco office. The image is relatively crisp, but you you can see where the sensor and image compression quality hit their limit when you try to make out the text on street signs.
The iPad 2's camera does a decent job balancing brightness in scenes with a stark contrast of light and shadow. It's a good thing, too, since Apple's stock camera app doesn't include any advanced settings for adjusting brightness or exposure. For better or worse, camera adjustments are entirely automatic.
Even if Apple had gone the route of using a Zeiss lens and a 10-megapixel sensor, the iPad 2 just isn't a replacement for a camera or smartphone. Having tested the camera quality of tablets over the past year, we can't stress enough how silly you feel shooting videos or photos with a tablet in public. It's like taking a picture with a cutting board. Your grandfather's camera was less conspicuous. You get looks, and they're not the envious kind.
Already feeling like a tourist from another planet, we took this shot of a retro rocket sculpture overlooking the San Francisco Bay. The iPad 2's camera does a decent job handling the glare off the rocket, but you'll notice the lack of detail on the faces of the people sitting below it.
In this close-up shot of mushrooms at a local market, the iPad 2's camera does a noticeably better job picking up detail than in the previous, wider shots. The colors are a little flat, though, and could probably benefit from some basic point-and-shoot camera options to compensate for lighting.
Here's an action shot of passengers stepping off a local train. Aside from the blurred object passing by on the left, the iPad 2 does a respectable job capturing subjects in motion. The colors, again, are flat.
It's also worth noting that the iPad's shutter is faster and more responsive than the one in the Motorola Xoom tablet we tested it against. The Xoom offers higher resolution, camera flash, and several options for image exposure and color settings, but it's not as quick on the draw as the iPad 2.
Here's another example of the iPad 2's ability to take relatively nuanced photos even under high-contrast lighting situations. The detail on the texture of the floor tiles is a little soft, but lesser cameras would likely take the reflected sunlight from the top of the image as an excuse to blow out the whole scene.
Again, here you can see how the iPad 2 does an admirable job capturing detail of subjects in close range. You can pick out the differences in texture between the road and the plastic safety cones. The gradient on the shadows isn't shabby either.
Here's a longer distance shot taken with the iPad 2. Larger details, such as the text on the wall and architectural elements come across relatively crisp. The detail on the two men standing on the left leaves plenty to the imagination, though.
To test the digital zoom quality on the iPad 2's camera, we first took this comparison shot of the San Francisco Ferry Building clock tower. The next two photos will show the effects of zooming in 50 percent and 100 percent.
This shot was a happy accident. While placing the iPad down between shots, we noticed this interesting perspective shift. It's another example of the iPad 2's unexpectedly detailed image quality when subjects are in close range.
The most interesting thing to note about this photo is that we couldn't take anything similar to it with the Motorola Xoom tablet. Taking action shots like this requires precise timing and a responsive shutter. In spite of the iPad 2's mediocre image resolution, it can take photos more quickly than the Xoom, and in faster succession.
Here's a street scene captured on the iPad 2. The brightness and contrast of the image are respectable, but the colors are washed out and the details on faces and people are hazy. The iPad 2 wouldn't be our first choice for taking vacation photos.
Here's a shot that plays to the iPad 2's strengths. The hydrant top is in close range, with lots of color, texture, and detail to offer.
That said, framing shots like this on the iPad 2 is a bit awkward, since the camera lens is off in the far corner of the tablet. You really have to use the giant onscreen viewfinder to square things up correctly.